An Upstate lawmaker said at least a decade's worth of South Carolina laws haven't technically been in effect.
South Carolina Dist. 10 Rep. Joshua Putnam said at least a quarter of the laws passed over the last 10 years are missing a seal required by the South Carolina constitution.According to the state constitution, a bill must have the Great Seal of the State affixed to it.
-SC Constitution Article III, Section 18Greenville attorney, John Bateman weighed in on the debate and said this could mean some lengthy legal battles ahead, especially with criminal convictions.
"The scary thing is, what happens to the people who were convicted or pled guilty to charges that were not actual charges because, according to the constitution, there was no law broken?” said Bateman.
Bateman said he’s sifting through pages of South Carolina laws and plans to challenge his clients’ criminal convictions that were unconstitutional.
“We've got cases that are coming up for trial or coming up for plea and we've got to figure out how to handle those cases,” said Bateman, “We've also got to figure out the folks that were convicted or pled guilty to laws that were not law and that’s a much bigger problem."
Secretary of State Mark Hammond admitted that some of the bills were not stamped and does not know how this went unnoticed for at least a decade.
“I have no idea why, other than to say it was human error,” said Secretary Hammond.
It has long been the duty of the Secretary of State to stamp bills into law, but Secretary Hammond said this is not spelled out anywhere in the constitution.
“We haven't found anywhere in the constitution that states that the Secretary of State affixes the seal to ratified acts,” said Secretary Hammond, “If I had the authority to decide whether or not to place the seal on an act, I would be the most powerful man in the state of South Carolina."
Lawmakers said the seal was not stamped on the bill to remove the confederate flag or the gas tax hike that went into effect earlier this year, along with dozens of DUI and domestic violence laws.
“It seems like a lot of folks, legislature and otherwise, seem to think that it doesn’t make much of a difference, but when you’re talking about the criminal context and criminal laws, it makes a great deal of difference,” said Bateman.
Now, the big question is, what happens with those bills that weren't stamped into law or were stamped years later? Lawmakers say it's up to the Supreme Court to decide.
“This is something that is unprecedented,” said Bateman, “This is much bigger than people can imagine.”
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